Light, crunchy and versatile, celery has become a common household staple that is used in a wide variety of delicious dishes, especially during its peak summer growing period.

When picking out celery at your local grocery, you should choose specimens that look crisp, compact, free from yellow or brown patches on the leaves and that snap easily when pulled apart. To clean and prepare, first coat thoroughly with antibacterial soap, and wash with warm running water to remove any bacteria. Then, remove the rough outside stalks as well as the base. Remove the leaves and strings, and store the former in an airtight container as the leaves can be used for soup bases or Bloody Marys. Once you’ve removed the portions that you wish to immediately use, store the rest of the de-stringed stalk in a separate airtight container, where it can last up to three weeks, or in tinfoil where it can last up to five weeks.

While it possesses a superior flavor in the summer, celery can be found year round at nearly any grocery store or farmer’s market. In addition to the stalks, the leaves, roots and seeds can also be used as a food and seasoning as well as a natural medicinal remedy. Celery is quite healthful, and amazingly consumers burn more calories eating it than they get from ingesting it! In addition, celery contains vitamin C, potentially cholesterol-lowering phthalides, and coumarins, which some studies have linked to cancer prevention.

Wild celery is the first known ancestor of modern celery, and the former traces its origins to Mediterranean lands and was also found as far east as the Himalayas. First used as a medicine, celery is first mentioned in this context in Homer’s 9th century B.C. masterpiece, The Odyssey. In addition, the ancient Romans began using celery as a seasoning, but it first appeared in its own right in the cuisine of the Middle Ages. Finally, in the early 19th century, celery became an increasingly integral part of American cuisine.

Currently, there is a push among consumers to purchase organic celery. This is because, according to the Environmental Working Group, it is one of the top 12 foods on which pesticide residues are most commonly found. Mainstream farms use pesticides to prevent insects from consuming crops, but these pesticides are toxic to humans even in trace quantities. No matter how much a food item is washed, it can be difficult to remove all pesticide traces, so you may wish to purchase organic celery to avoid this potential hazard.

No matter what type of celery you choose, there are many ways to enjoy this delightful veggie. Simple preparations include spreading peanut butter on the stalk to create a sweet and protein-rich treat, chopping sections to put in tuna or chicken salad, using the leaves and stalks to flavor stocks, or adding a few stalks to your favorite carrot or tomato juice recipe. For a more complex meal, try braising chopped celery and combining with specialty greens and gorgonzola cheese for a delicious gourmet salad or creating a celery root remoulade.

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